Judicial conduct & complaints

Judicial conduct & complaints

Guide to judicial conduct

Guide to judicial conduct - PDF version

1 Introduction

1.1 The President, Deputy President and Justices of the United Kingdom Supreme Court (collectively referred to hereafter as 'the Justices') have decided to adopt this Guide to their judicial conduct. Such guides have become commonplace in recent years (1 Eg Canadian Judicial Council, Ethical Principles for Judges (1998), Council of Chief Justices of Australia, Guide to Judicial Conduct (2002). See the seminal study by Mr Justice Thomas, a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland, Judicial Ethics in Australia (2nd edn, 1997) ) The Justices have drawn upon the principles contained in a revised version of the Guide for Judges in England and Wales which was published in March 2008.

1.2 That Guide refers to the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2003 and published with a commentary in 2007. The intention of the Principles is to establish standards of ethical conduct for judges, to provide guidance for individual judges and the judiciary in regulating judicial conduct, and also to assist members of the executive and legislature, lawyers and the public, better to understand and support the judiciary. The principles are stated as six "values":

  1. Judicial independence is a prerequisite to the rule of law and a fundamental guarantee of a fair trial. A judge shall therefore uphold and exemplify judicial independence in both its individual and institutional aspects.
  2. Impartiality is essential to the proper discharge of the judicial office. It applies not only to the decision itself but also to the process by which the decision is made.
  3. Integrity is essential to the proper discharge of the judicial office.
  4. Propriety, and the appearance of propriety, are essential to the performance of all of the activities of the judge.
  5. Ensuring equality of treatment to all before the courts is essential to the due performance of the judicial office.
  6. Competence and diligence are prerequisites to the due performance of judicial office.

1.3 The Justices believe that those principles are already well understood by the judiciary, executive and legislature in the United Kingdom. The specific guidance given below, much of which might be thought to go without saying, follows the same pattern. There is considerable overlap between the principles.

1.4 The primary responsibility for deciding whether a particular activity or course of conduct is appropriate rests with the individual Justice. The interests of justice must always be the overriding factor. There is also a range of reasonably held opinions on some points. In cases of doubt, a Justice should seek the advice of the President or Deputy President of the Court.

2 Independence

2.1 The judiciary of the United Kingdom have been independent of the government since at least the early 18th century. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom was established in order to achieve the physical separation of the country's highest court from the House of Lords and thus to clarify the Justices' independence both of government and of Parliament. Judicial independence is a cornerstone of our system of government in a democratic society and a safeguard of the freedom and rights of the citizen under the rule of law. The Justices will take care that their conduct, official or private, does not undermine their institutional or individual independence or the public appearance of independence.

2.2 The Justices have all sworn the judicial oath, which states:

"I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this Realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will."

In taking that oath, each Justice has acknowledged that he or she is primarily accountable to the law which he or she must administer. This involves putting aside private interests and preferences and being alert to attempts to influence decisions or curry favour.

2.3 The Justices may consult with their colleagues when points of difficulty arise on matters of conduct. But they are solely responsible for the decisions that they take in the performance of their judicial duties.

2.4 The Justices must be immune to the effects of publicity, whether favourable or unfavourable. But that does not mean ignoring the profound effect which their decisions are likely to have, not only on the parties before the Court, but also upon the wider public whose concerns may well be forcibly expressed in the media.

2.5 The Justices accept their responsibility to promote public understanding of their work and of their decisions. But they will show appropriate caution and restraint when explaining or commenting publicly upon their decisions in individual cases.

2.6 If a Justice is misquoted or misrepresented in the media, the matter will be handled by the Court's communications officer in consultation with the Justice. See also "The Media: a Guide for Judges", first published by the Lord Chancellor's Department in July 2000.

3 Impartiality

3.1 Each Justice will strive to ensure that his or her conduct, both in and out of court, maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants in the impartiality of the individual Justice and of the Court.

3.2 Each Justice will seek to avoid extra-judicial activities that are likely to cause him or her to have to refrain from sitting on a case because of a reasonable apprehension of bias or because of a conflict of interest that would arise from the activity.

3.3 Each Justice will refrain from any kind of party political activity and from attendance at political gatherings or political fundraising events, or contributing to a political party, in such as way as to give the appearance of belonging to a particular political party. They will also refrain from taking part in public demonstrations which might diminish their authority as a judge or create a perception of bias in subsequent cases. They will bear in mind that political activity by a close member of a Justice's family might raise concern in a particular case about the judge's own impartiality and detachment from the political process.

3.4 However, the Justices recognise that it is important for members of the Court to deliver lectures and speeches, to take part in conferences and seminars, to write and to teach and generally to contribute to debate on matters of public interest in the law, the administration of justice, and the judiciary. Their aim is to enhance professional and public understanding of the issues and of the role of the Court.

3.5 In making such contributions, the Justices will take care to avoid associating themselves with a particular organisation, group or cause in such a way as to give rise to a perception of partiality towards that organisation (including a set of chambers or firm of solicitors), group or cause.

3.6 In their personal relations with individual members of the legal profession, especially those who practise regularly in the Supreme Court, the Justices will avoid situations which might reasonably give rise to the suspicion or appearance of favouritism or partiality.

Bias and the appearance of bias

3.7 The question whether an appearance of bias or possible conflict of interest is sufficient to disqualify a Justice from taking part in a particular case is the subject of United Kingdom and Strasbourg jurisprudence which will guide the Justices in specific situations. Recent UK cases include Porter v Magill [2002] 2 AC 357, Locobail (UK) Ltd v Bayfield Properties Ltd [2002] QB 451, Re Medicaments and Related Classes of Goods (No.2) [2001] 1 WLR 700 and Helow v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2008] 1 WLR 2416.

3.8 Circumstances will vary infinitely and guidelines can do no more than seek to assist the individual Justice in the judgment to be made, which involves, by virtue of the authorities, considering the perception the fair-minded and informed observer would have. What follows are merely signposts to some of the questions which may arise.

3.9 A Justice will not sit in a case where:

  1. he or she has a close family relationship with a party or with the spouse or domestic partner of a partner;
  2. his or her spouse or domestic partner was a judge in a court below;
  3. he or she has a close family relationship with an advocate appearing before the Supreme Court.

3.10 Sufficient reasons for not sitting on a case include:

  1. personal friendship with, or personal animosity towards, a party; friendship is to be distinguished from acquaintance, which may or may not be a sufficient reason depending upon its nature and extent;
  2. current or recent business association with a party; this includes the Justice's own solicitor, accountant, doctor, dentist or other professional adviser; it does not normally include the Justice's insurance company, bank or a local authority to which he or she pays council tax.

3.11 Reasons which are unlikely to be sufficient for a Justice not to sit on a case, but will depend upon the circumstances, include:

  1. friendship or past professional association with counsel or solicitors acting for a party;
  2. the fact that a relative of the Justice is a partner in, or employee of, a firm of solicitors or other professional advisers involved in a case; much will depend upon the extent to which that relative is involved in or affected by the result in the case;
  3. past professional association with a party as a client; much will depend upon how prolonged, close, or recent that association was.

3.12 A Justice will not sit in a case in which he or she or, to his or her knowledge, a member of his or her family has any significant financial interest in the outcome of the case. 'Family' for this purpose means spouse, domestic partner or other person in a close personal relationship with the Justice; son, son-in-law, daughter, daughter-in-law; and anyone else who is a companion or employee living in the Justice's household. It is for the Justice to inform himself or herself about his or her personal financial and fiduciary interests and to take reasonable steps to be informed about the interests of members of his or her family.

3.13 A significant financial interest could arise, not from an interest in the outcome of the particular case, but where the decision on the point of law might have an impact upon the Justice's own financial interests. The Justice will have regard to the nature and extent of his or her interest and the effect of the decision on others with whom he or she has a relationship, actual or foreseeable.

3.14 Previous participation in public office or public debate on matters relevant to an issue in a case will not normally be a cause for a Justice not to sit, unless the Justice has thereby committed himself or herself to a particular view irrespective of the arguments presented to the Court. This risk will seldom, if ever, arise from what a judge has said in other cases, or from previous findings against a party in other litigation.

3.15 If circumstances which may give rise to a suggestion of bias, or the appearance of bias, are present, they should be disclosed to the parties well before the hearing, if possible. Otherwise the parties may be placed in a difficult position when deciding whether or not to proceed. Sometimes, however, advance notification may not be possible.

3.16 Disclosure should be to all parties and, unless the issue has been resolved before the hearing, discussion should be in open court. Even where the parties consent to the Justice sitting, the Justice should refuse himself or herself if, on balance, he or she considers that this is the proper course. Conversely, there are likely to be cases in which the Justice has thought it appropriate to bring the circumstances to the attention of the parties but, having considered any submissions, is entitled to and may rightly decide to proceed notwithstanding the lack of consent.

4 Integrity

4.1 As a general proposition, the Justices are entitled to exercise the rights and freedoms available to all citizens. There is a public interest in their participating, insofar as their office permits, in the life and affairs of the community. The Justices also have private and family lives which are entitled to the same respect as those of other people.

4.2 However, the Justices accept that the nature of their office exposes them to considerable scrutiny and puts constraints on their behaviour which other people may not experience. They are conscious that it is a privilege to serve the community in this capacity. They will try to avoid situations which might reasonably lower respect for their judicial office, or cast doubt upon their impartiality as judges, or expose them to charges of hypocrisy. They will try to conduct themselves in a way which is consistent with the dignity of their office.

4.3 In Court, the Justices will seek to be courteous, patient, tolerant and punctual and to respect the dignity of all. They will strive to ensure that no one in Court is exposed to any display of bias or prejudice on grounds such as race, colour, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, social and economic status and other like causes. Care will be taken that arrangements made for and during a hearing do not put people with a disability at a disadvantage.

4.4 No Justice, or member of a Justice's family, will ask for or accept any gift, bequest, loan or favour in relation to anything done or to be done or omitted to be done by the Justice in connection with his or her judicial duties.

5 Propriety

5.1 The Justices will avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities. They will not exploit the prestige of their office to obtain personal favours or benefits.

5.2 A Justice may not practise law while in full time office: see Courts and Legal Services Act 1990, s 75 and Schedule 11. Nor may a Justice allow the use of his or her residence by a member of the legal profession to receive clients or other members of the legal profession.

5.3 The Justices will not use or lend the prestige of their office to advance their own private interests, or those of a member of their family or of anyone else, nor will they convey or permit others to convey the impression that anyone is in a special position improperly to influence the Justice in the performance of his or her duties.

5.4 Confidential information acquired by a Justice in his or her judicial capacity will not be used or disclosed by the Justice for any purpose not related to his or her judicial duties.

Outside activities

5.5 Justices may form or join associations of judges or participate in other organisations representing the interests of judges.

5.6 Justices may appear at a public hearing before a Parliamentary committee or official body concerned with matters relating to the law, the legal system, the administration of justice or related matters.

5.8 Justices may engage in other academic, voluntary, charitable or religious activities which do not detract from the dignity of their office or otherwise interfere with the performance of their judicial duties.

5.7 Justices may serve as a member of an official body, or other government commission, committee or advisory body, if such membership is not inconsistent with the perceived impartiality and political neutrality of a judge.

5.9 Subject to those constraints, Justices may properly be involved in the management of educational, voluntary, charitable or religious organisations. Care should be taken in allowing their name to be associated with an appeal for funds, even for a charitable organisation, lest it be seen as inappropriate use of judicial prestige in support of the organisation or creating a sense of obligation in donors.

5.10 Justices who hold high office in universities and similar institutions will bear in mind the need to limit their involvement in contentious situations. Moreover, in considering whether to accept office and what role to play, consideration should be given to the trend of some such bodies to be more entrepreneurial and to resemble a business. The greater the move in that direction, the less appropriate judicial participation may be.

Commercial activities

5.11 The requirements of a Justice's office and terms of service place severe restraints upon the permissible scope of his or her involvement with any commercial enterprise. Some guidance is given in the cases referred to earlier.

5.12 The management of family assets and the estates of deceased close family members, whether as executor or trustee, is unobjectionable, and may be acceptable for other relatives or friends if the administration is not complex, time consuming or contentious. However, the risks, including the risk of litigation, associated with the office of trustee, even of a family trust, should not be overlooked and the factors involved need to be weighed carefully before office is accepted.

5.13 A full-time Justice will not receive any remuneration other than a judicial salary except for fees and royalties earned as an author or editor but may of course receive money from investments or property.

Gifts and hospitality

5.14 Caution should be exercised when considering whether to accept any gift or hospitality. Justices will be wary of accepting any gift or hospitality which might appear to relate in some way to their judicial office and might be construed as an attempt to attract judicial goodwill or favour.

5.15 The acceptance of a gift or hospitality of modest value, as a token of appreciation, may be unobjectionable, depending on the circumstances. For example a Justice who makes a speech or participates in some public or private function should feel free to accept a small token of appreciation; this may include a contribution to charity.

5.16 By way of further example, the acceptance of invitations to lunches and dinners by legal and other professional and public bodies or officials, where attendance can be reasonably seen as the performance of a public or professional duty, carrying no degree of obligation, is entirely acceptable.

5.17 There is a long-standing tradition of association between bench and the bar and the solicitors' profession. This occurs both on formal occasions, such as dinners, and less formal ones. However, Justices will be cautious when invited to take part in what may be legitimate marketing or promotional activities, for example by barristers' chambers or solicitors' firms, or professional associations, where the object of judicial participation may be perceived to be the impressing of clients or potential clients. They will also take care not to associate with individual members of the profession who are engaged in current or pending cases before the Court in such a way as to give any appearance of partiality.

References and social activities

5.18 Justices may give references for professional competence or character for people who are well known to them. A person should not be deprived of a reference because the person best able to give it is a Justice. Giving character evidence in court or otherwise is not excluded, particularly where it may seem unfair to deprive the person concerned of the benefit of such evidence, but this should be undertaken only exceptionally. Consultation with the President or Deputy President of the Court is advisable before taking a decision to give evidence.

5.19 Justices will assess social and other activities in the light of their duty to maintain the dignity of their office and not to permit associations which may affect adversely their ability to discharge their duties.

Competence and Dilligence

6.1 As Lord Bingham of Cornhill stated in his 1993 lecture to the Society of Public Teachers of Law, entitled Judicial Ethics:

"It is a judge's professional duty to do what he reasonably can to equip himself to discharge his judicial duties with a high degree of competence."

Plainly this requires the judge to take reasonable steps to maintain and enhance the judge's knowledge and skills necessary for the proper performance of judicial duties, to devote the judge's professional activity to judicial duties and not to engage in conduct incompatible with the diligent discharge of such duties.

6.2 Beyond stating those general propositions, it is not seen as the function of this guide to consider judicial duties and practice with respect, for example, to judgment writing and participation in judicial education. These topics are better dealt with, insofar as they are not prescribed in the rules of the Supreme Court, in Practice Directions or in case law, by guidance from the President or Deputy President of the Court, and in discussion amongst the Justices.

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Judicial complaints procedure

Judicial complaints procedure - PDF version.

1. Any complaint against a Justice of the Supreme Court when acting in that capacity, by whomever received, shall in the first instance be passed to the Chief Executive. Complaints must be made within three months of the date for matters about which the complaint is being made. If the complaint relates only to the effect of a judicial decision or discloses no ground of complaint calling for consideration the Chief Executive if he thinks it appropriate, shall take no action save to inform the complainant (if identifiable) that no action will be taken.

2. In any other case the Chief Executive shall refer the complaint to the President, unless the complaint relates to the President, in which case it shall be referred to the Deputy President, unless the complaint relates also to the Deputy President, in which case it shall be referred to the most senior member of the Court to whom it does not relate.

3. The President or Deputy President or Senior member, as the case may be, (hereafter "the appropriate member"), shall then consult the next senior member of the court to whom the complaint does not relate and, having done so, may:

  1. take no action; or
  2. bring the complaint to the notice of the member who is the subject of the complaint and resolve the matter informally; or
  3. consider taking formal action as defined below.

In the event of either 3(i) or 3(ii) being pursued the reasons for that action being taken should be recorded and filed.

4. Consideration of taking formal action will be appropriate, whether or not any complaint is made, where a member of the Court is finally convicted of any offence which might reasonably be thought to throw serious doubt on that member's character, integrity or continuing fitness to hold office or where a member's conduct otherwise appears to be such as to throw serious doubt on that member's continuing fitness to hold office.

5. Where formal action is under consideration the appropriate member shall (1) inform the member who conduct is in question of that fact and of the matters alleged against him or her, (2) inform the Lord Chancellor of the facts so far as they are known, and (3) consult the Lord Chancellor on the action to be taken.

6. Having taken steps listed in paragraph 5 above, the appropriate member may, if it is considered appropriate to do so, initiate formal action.

7. Formal action shall mean:

  1. that a tribunal is established comprising the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland (or, if any of them is disqualified, the next most senior Judge in that jurisdiction) and two independent persons of high standing nominated by the Lord Chancellor, to be chaired by whichever of the three first-named office-holders has longest held his or her office;
  2. that the member whose conduct is in question shall be informed of the full details of what is said against him or her;
  3. that the tribunal shall investigate the accusation or complaint adopting such procedure as shall be fair and as expeditious as it consistent with fairness;
  4. that the tribunal shall make a report summarizing the facts as found by the tribunal so far as relevant and recommending the action, if any, to be taken;
  5. that the tribunal shall deliver this report to the appropriate member and provide a copy to the member whose conduct is in question;
  6. that the appropriate member shall deliver the report to the Lord Chancellor;
  7. that the Lord Chancellor shall decide whether to initiate action to remove from office the member whose conduct is in question and, if he judges it appropriate to do so, shall take such action pursuant to section 33 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

8. Whether or not the Lord Chancellor decides to take action to remove the member from office, he or she may publish the report made by the tribunal.

9. The member against whom a complaint or accusation is made may at any time vacate his or her office voluntarily, without prejudice to any other action which may be taken against him or her, and formal action may be discontinued at any stage.

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UKSC complaints procedure (non-Judicial)

UKSC complaints proceedure (non-Judicial) - PDF version.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (UKSC) was established by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. It is a non-Ministerial department.

The Court hears appeals on arguable points of law of the greatest public importance, for the whole of the United Kingdom in civil cases, and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in criminal cases.

Additionally, it hears cases on devolution matters under the Scotland Act 1998, the Northern Ireland Act 1988 and the Government of Wales Act 2006.

Complaints about decisions made by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

The UKSC is the final court of appeal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and for civil matters from Scotland. As such its decisions cannot be appealed in the United Kingdom and there is no avenue to complain about their merits.

The complaints procedure detailed below gives information about the handling of complaints against the conduct of members of staff, about the UKSC's administrative procedures, or about a policy or administrative decision taken by the UKSC. There are separate procedures for complaints about the conduct of the Justices or the Registrar in the performance of their judicial functions.

Requests for Information for personal data

Requests for recorded information or personal data held by the UKSC are handled under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (2000) or the Data Protection Act (1998) as appropriate. If you are dissatisfied with a response you receive to any such request, there is a separate procedure for handling these as set out in the Acts. If you want to make an FOI request or ask for your personal data you should contact -

Freedom of Information
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom,
Parliament Square,



Complaints about a member of staff or the UKSC's administrative procedures

If you have a complaint about a member of the UKSC staff (except the Chief Executive) or about its administrative procedures or non - judicial policy decisions you should write giving details of the complaint and your name and address to:

Sam Clark
Director of Corporate Services
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
Parliament Square

Email Sam Clark

If you have a complaint about the conduct of one of our consultations you should write giving details of the complaint and your name and address to:

Email Sam Clark - contact details as above.

Complaints about UKSC administrative policies

If you have a complaint about the merits of any UKSC policy you should write to -

Mark Ormerod
Chief Executive
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
Parliament Square

Email Mark Ormerod

How will my complaint be handled?

Our policy is to respond to all enquiries promptly and courteously. We treat all complaints seriously and aim to reply to them within 20 working days. If we cannot do that, we will keep you informed of the progress we are making with your complaint. If we decide your complaint is justified we will apologise and explain how we intend to put the situation right.

We record all complaints so that we may learn from them. If we cannot resolve your complaint we will inform you of any steps you can take if you want it investigated further. Please note that we will not respond to rude or abusive letters, emails or telephone calls.

If your complaint is about a member of the UKSC's staff or about its consultation or other administrative procedures or decisions the Director of Corporate Services will look into the complaint and provide you with a reply. If you are not satisfied with the response, you may write to the Chief Executive at the UKSC's address above or by email to Mark Ormerod using the contact details given above.

If your complaint is about a UKSC policy, the Chief Executive will appoint a current or former Non-Executive Director, who was not involved in the decision to implement the policy which is the subject of the complaint, to investigate the complaint and report their findings to her. The Chief Executive will then respond to the complainant.

If your complaint is about the Chief Executive

If your complaint is about the conduct of the Chief Executive, you should write, giving details of the complaint and your name and address to:

The President
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
Parliament Square

Or email the Personal Secretary to the President of The Supreme Court.

The President will then ask a Non-Executive Director of the UKSC to investigate your complaint and, after reporting back to the President, to then respond to you.

Still not satisfied?

If you are not satisfied with the response you receive from the Director of Corporate Services, the Chief Executive, or, in the event of a complaint about the Chief Executive, the response you receive from the person appointed by the President to investigate your complaint, you may ask the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to investigate.

The Ombudsman is completely independent from Government and the Civil Service. They investigate claims that individuals have suffered because a government department, agency or other public body has not acted properly or fairly or has provided a poor service.

You cannot approach the Ombudsman yourself, but may ask a Member of Parliament (MP) to do this for you. You can get a leaflet which explains how the Ombudsman might be able to help by telephoning their helpline on 0345 015 4033. More details can be found on their website www.ombudsman.org.uk.

Complaints about the conduct of a Justice or the Registrar

If you have a complaint about the conduct of a Justice or the Registrar you should write giving details of the complaint and your name and address to Mark Ormerod, Chief Executive, whose contact details are given above. Your complaint will be dealt with in accordance with the UKSC's Judicial Complaints procedure, which is set out elsewhere.

Government Policy

We do not deal with complaints about Government policy. If you have a complaint about Government policy, you should write to your MP or to the relevant Government Department's Minister.

2 January 2019

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